4 unhealthy communication habits and what to do instead.

Have you ever felt like anger played a productive role in your relationship? Fighting can sometimes be confused with passion. Disagreements are natural and unavoidable, anger and fighting on the other hand are unproductive and damaging to a marriage. If you can relate to any of these unhealthy communication habits it’s time to learn a better way. Save the passion for the bedroom!

unhealthy communication habits

The 4 most common unhealthy communication habits:

1. Yielding: Yielding means giving up on the issue to avoid an argument. This habit results in an imbalance of power: one person wins and the other looses– and leads to symptoms like depression and resentment. Plus, the problem starting the arguments never gets solved!

2. Freezing: Freezing happens when you refuse to talk about the issue. You may avoid starting the conversation at all, or walk away and shut down during the conversation. When communication freezes, you build icy walls of stress and tension in your marriage, leading to feelings of anxiety and emotional distance. Continue reading 4 unhealthy communication habits and what to do instead.

How to find the best marriage counseling.

Whether you are looking for help with a household project, care for a child or elderly parent or help with a medical issue you want to find the best help available. The same is true when looking for relationship help. Getting the best help starts with doing your research. The internet makes researching almost anything super easy and it’s a good place to start. Unfortunately, just like you can’t believe everything you hear, your can’t trust everything you read online. The open source nature of the web makes a huge amount of information available without filtering the value of what’s out there. It’s your job to dig a little deeper and think outside the box to make sure you find the best marriage counseling for you.

best marriage counseling
Doing your research will ensure that you find the best marriage counseling for you.

Here are a few tips for finding the best marriage counseling in your area.

Start by figuring out what kind of help you are looking for.  Are you wanting a traditional approach to counseling? This often looks like you and your spouse sitting in a room for a series of sessions with a licensed marriage and family therapist. Maybe you are looking for a more intensive one time program like a marriage retreat? These sometimes require traveling or at the very least a dedicated weekend. They also often mean airing your laundry in a less private setting. There is a third option in online marriage help, programs like Power of Two. These are more self paced and tend to focus heavily on skill building with a coaching component. With an online program you don’t have to sit in a counselor’s waiting room with other patients, you’re not going to accidentally run into someone you know at the doctor’s office, and you don’t have to talk about your marriage with total strangers as you do with in-person, remote, or group counseling sessions. Counseling and marriage help are never a one size fits all deal, finding the right approach for you is an essential step. Continue reading How to find the best marriage counseling.

8 beliefs that are actually terrible advice on marriage

Much “commonsense” advice on marriage doesn’t actually make sense when you look at it closely. Here are 8 common beliefs about marriage that are counterproductive to a happy relationship, if not down-right harmful! If you have been experiencing marriage difficulties, check to see if any of these bad pieces of advice on marriage may be at the root of the problems.

 How good is your marriage? Take Dr. Heitler’s Marriage Checkup Quiz.

Bad advice on marriage #1: My spouse has to go to counseling with me or it won’t work.

Actually, one spouse can carry a lot of sway in a relationship and, on her own, turn around a failing marriage. Power of Two has been shown in studies to be just as effective as counseling when both spouses go. At some point you’ll need to get your spouse on board and working on his own contribution to the marriage. At the same time, he can be gently led into this by following your example of increasing positivity, practicing better communication skills, and initiating intimacy. Continue reading 8 beliefs that are actually terrible advice on marriage

Blog Roll: The Best 10 Marriage Blogs

One of the most important parts of giving advice is also knowing how to take it! The Power of Two marriage blog reads, reblogs and interacts with some awesome other marriage blogs across the internet. These writers give great advice and many are also licensed therapists or counselors. Others are simply very wise, insightful, and delightful writers. But don’t take my word for it–check them out for yourself!

1. Resolution not conflict is Dr. Susan Heitler’s popular Psychology Today blog. In addition to marriage and relationships, Dr. Susan writes about other areas of psychology such as mental health and novel therapy techniques. Continue reading Blog Roll: The Best 10 Marriage Blogs

Navigating life after divorce

Divorce is tough, and life after divorce may seem daunting when you’re in the thick of it. Here are three steps that will allow you to recover, learn and grow from your experience.

1. Give yourself time to heal

Nobody expects someone who’s just had heart surgery to be back to work the next week. Your heart, too, has been injured and it needs time to recover. Divorce is an emotionally and mentally draining process. Use this initial time–weeks, months, whatever seems right to you–to react to what has happened. Explore your emotions and let them flow through and away from you. Continue reading Navigating life after divorce

Review: Tokii offers relationship games on your smart phone

Tokii, a Canadian self-help gaming company, has just released two of their most popular relationship games for iOS and Android.  Since providing relationship help with fun online activities is close to Po2’s heart, I decided to check our what they have to offer!

At Tokii.com you are invited to “Touch base with Tokii: Get together. Get talking. Get intimate.” After signing up for a free account you can invite your significant other to join you in a “relationship.” From there you have tons of options to play relationship games, take quizes, read articles, and chat with other members in forums. The site keeps track of the activities you do with your spouse and offers insights about your relationship.

The phone apps are essentially pared down versions of two activities available on their website. The Mood Meter allows users to log their mood during the day, send it to their spouse, and even post it to Facebook or Twitter. The app keeps track of your mood entries and over time generates a “mood history” you can share and discuss with your partner.

The other featured app is “Sharing Games”. These are short quizes that allow you to share opinions and facts about yourself on different topics. As a disclaimer, I didn’t create an account and sign in to play the games. But they look quite interesting. Topics range from basic (“My social interests”) to political (“The Economy and Obama”) to the sociological (“Fairytales” which prompts you to “see how fairy tales have shaped the way you view relationships and male/female roles as an adult.”). Some of these relationship games are sure to promote deep thinking and communication in a relationship. Even the more basic questions may reveal things things you didn’t know your spouse.

Relationship games are now apps on smart phones
Relationship games can help you break up routines.

Tokii intends these games help jolt couples out of their habits of interaction, which I think is a great idea. Interjecting new ways of thinking and talking–specifically about new subjects–is essential to keeping marriages healthy. As I wrote in a previous post on how to put the spark back in your relationship, the longer you are with your spouse the more you tend to assume things about him rather than processing what he does or actually asking what he thinks. This is unfortunate because not only does it lead to misunderstandings and arguments, it glosses over the ways in which your partner may have grown and changed over the years.

Tokii’s relationship games app seems like a great resource, especially for younger couples who are used to communicating via text and sharing status updates. I imagine it could also be useful for keeping in touch with children, siblings and friends. If any of you try Tokii, let me know what you think!

What do we mean by emotional health?

In this guest post Susan Heitler, Ph.D, explains how psychologists define emotional health and what contributes to it. She reveals that the method for cultivating good mental emotional health involves learned skills that we develop as we grow and experience life–or learn from others and programs like Power of Two!

When we describe ourselves as being physically healthy, we generally mean that our bodies are humming along without pain, enabling us to work and play as we would like.
With mental health, the sign that all’s well is similar.  We feel little or no emotional pain, that is, negative feelings like anger, anxiety, or depression.  In this regard, mental health might better be called emotional health.

There’s lots we can do to prevent downturns in emotional health.  Learning to live in the present instead of dwelling in future-focused “what if’s” for instance can minimize needless anxieties.  Learning from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up for them can similarly minimize our vulnerability to depression.

At the same time, emotional well-being can be enhanced. Religion, for instance, hopefully reinforces a life stance of gratitude and appreciation.  Devoting time and attention to building loving family, friend, and community relationships sustains self-confidence and augments our opportunities to enjoy happiness, pleasure, delight and affection.  Helping others, learning new skills, sexual release, experiencing something new, exercising our physical selves and accomplishing goals also promote feeling good.

How have other psychological thinkers described mental health?

Freud, the father of modern psychological thinking, defined mental health as the ability to love and work.  Work is what we do on our own, and love is what we do with others.  A subsequent psychological theorist, Adreas Angyal, similarly defined mental health as “the ability to experience both autonomy and belonging.”

A 1970’s group called The Incredible String Band beautifully express this paradoxical set of goals for human well-being when they sing:  “What is it that I am? and what is it that I am part of?”

How can folks upgrade their mental health?

While many think that mental health involves just doing what comes naturally, I myself am a believer that feeling consistently good —  alone with oneself, in work settings, and in relationships — takes skills. In addition to the emotional functioning skills I describe above, “people skills,” like the ones taught at poweroftwomarriage.com, are vital.  These include ability to say things tactfully, to listen constructively, to minimize conflict and be able to make decisions with others cooperatively to repair misunderstandings, to manage emotions so that anger  and jealousy doen’t tarnish your relationships, and more.

Looking for a way to feel better?  Learn the skills that enhance mental health!

Marriage and the grieving process

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping couples overcome loss and manifest their potential. She is the author of Transcending Loss, Claim Your Inner Grown-up, and her latest book,  Shortcuts to Inner Peace:  70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. She also manages several loss support communities on Facebook. In this guest post for PO2 Ashley shares insight into staying connected as a couple through the grieving process.

In the brilliant 2010 movie, “Rabbit Hole,” Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a bereaved couple who are driven apart by their grief after they lose their young son in a tragic accident. While the mother draws inward and wishes to hide from her memories, the father wants to attend grief groups, talk endlessly, and memorialize his son.

The grieving process — with its mixture of pain, sadness, hopelessness, longing, anger, guilt, confusion, and disorientation – is one of our most universal experiences.  Thankfully, we won’t all know the searing pain of losing a child, yet we will all know the grief of losing grandparents, parents, pets, friends, and even siblings.

While individuals have different styles of grieving, it is generally considered healthy to be able to tolerate, honor, and express emotions.  When you’re grieving with a partner (who may or may not be feeling the same degree of grief), coping with your feelings can be quite a challenge.

How a couple handles their array of grief feelings has the potential to either drive them apart or draw them closer together. The following guidelines offer help for managing the intense, lifelong impact of grief.  These are important to remember not only for an individual’s mental health, but also for the sake of the relationship.

1. Speak honestly

Be truthful about your experience and what you’re feeling during your grieving process. It may be that you want time alone to process or write in a journal. Or perhaps you need time to talk with your partner about what’s going on inside.  Speak from your heart and be honest about what you need.

2. Listen to your partner’s feelings

Listen with an open heart to whatever it is that your partner is experiencing. Don’t take anything personally and be willing to offer them space when they need it and/or a listening ear when necessary.

3. Support your partner in his/her process

Although you and your partner may have different styles of how you grieve, try to support your partner’s preferences (even if they are quite different from your own).  If you like to display photographs of your dearly departed but your partner finds them upsetting, keep pictures visible to you but private (such as on your desk, in your car, or on your bureau).

4. Honor the loss

Talk about the loss and don’t be afraid to reminisce. You may want to light a candle, for example, at special dinners/holidays to commemorate a person who is no longer present.

5. Stay intentionally connected as a couple

Even if you find that you want to experience your grief privately, find ways to stay connected with your loved one. Let them know that you still love them, care about them, and appreciate their presence.  Stay connected through the grieving process with hugs, touch, texts, words of encouragement, and tokens of love.

At the end of the film “Rabbit Hole”, the two main characters find their way back to each other in spite of their different grieving styles. This was an intentional choice on their part aided by their desire to embrace life. One of the urgent lessons that loss has to teach is that life is fragile and must be savored.  If you can take that lesson to heart and honor each other in the process, you may find that the grieving process – whenever it occurs – has the potential to knit a fabric of intimacy and intensity that you’ve never before experienced.

What they don’t tell you about child rearing and mental health–and why they should

May is mental health awareness month, and I’m excited announce a series of guest posts from marriage experts. Each week will feature a new guest post on a certain subject of mental health in marriage.

I’m kicking off the campaign by talking about the importance of talking about mental health–specifically when it comes to child rearing. I’m using a great TED talk lecture given by Babble.com co-founders Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman.

Americans are strong, independent, creative and adventurous. At the same time, we’re not very good when it comes to talking about our feelings, our challenges, and our struggles. Child rearing is one of those areas. As any parent knows, raising kids is hard. It takes its tole on our bodies and our minds. Yet when it comes to talking about our mental health challenges as parents, there are still taboos that hold us back. This lack of communication makes us doubt our ourselves…if it seems so easy for everyone else, why is it so hard for me? What’s wrong with me? Am I a bad parent? Am I a bad person? These doubts and anxieties whirl around inside us, growing on themselves and eating away at our self esteem and happiness.

It takes a lot of guts to get up and talk about your own difficulties with child rearing. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more of this as mental health taboos are broken and the “strong and silent” expectations of our culture shift towards one of sharing and mutual support. Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman are two brave pioneers. In December 2010, the couple gave a TED talk about the parenting-discussion taboos they’ve faced versus the realities of child rearing. They break the silence and tell us why it is so important to talk about these things with each other.

Taboo #1: You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby the moment you saw him.

While this may be true for some parents, it should not be the expectation. Rufus points out he felt deep affection and awe for the little newborn in his arms, but not deep, enduring love like the love he felt for his wife at that moment. Love is what has grown over time and is the way he feels about his son now. The problem, Rufus says, is that we tend to think about love in binary: we are either in love or not in love. The truth is, love is a process; it grows and fluctuates constantly. This is as true for your spouse as for your children. You are not going to feel blissful, all-encompassing love at all times.

Taboo #2: You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be.

Alisa loved being pregnant. During this time, she notes, women are doted over with visits and wishes and love. Same for the moments in the hospital and right after the birth of the new baby. Then, all of a sudden, it’s just you and the infant. No one had mentioned that she would feel isolated and lonely. Why didn’t her sister–who had three children of her own–warn her? “I’ll never forget this–she said: ‘It’s just not something you want to say to a woman who’s having a baby for the first time.'” Postpartum depression and general loneliness is a huge and common burden for new moms. And it’s not “weakness”: it’s because what you are going through is hard! Knowing this can help mothers prepare and safeguard their mental health. After all, the baby is important, and so are you.

Taboo #3: You can’t talk about your miscarriage.

Having a miscarriage can be a devastating experience. During the talk, Alisa bravely shares the story of her miscarriage. Miscarriage is an invisible loss, she observes, there’s not much community support or closure that comes from any other kind of death. In addition to depression, she felt shame and embarrassment at “failing to do what she was genetically engineered to do,” and worried about the future of her marriage. After talking a bit with other women, she found that miscarriages were amazingly common in her community. Stories from friends and co-workers came out of the woodwork. In reality, miscarriage is not uncommon at all: 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Tragically, 74% of women believe that the miscarriage was “partly their fault.” This silent suffering and sense of shame prevents women from reaching out and receiving the mental health support they need.

Taboo #4: You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined since having a child.

Child rearing is amazing and magical and every bit of it is an utter joy. My children are my greatest joy. They are bundles of joy. Yet studies interviewing parents show that average happiness does indeed plummet with the birth of a child. Somehow, it’s not OK for us to admit that. Alisa and Rufus give a possible compromise explanation: before having children–in our late 20s–we settle into a nice, comfortable way of life with little that jars us our of our routine. At this point our average happiness is mellow and steady. After children, it runs up and down like a roller coaster. Yes, child rearing brings some of the most difficult and challenging times of your life–at moments, you will certainly be less happy that you were without children. And it’s OK to admit that! At the same time, parenting also rockets you into amazing moments of pure bliss and joy that you also wouldn’t have experienced without children. It’s just…different than pre-baby. It’s up and down and all over the place. It’s life.

As they conclude “Candor and brutal honesty is important for making us all better parents.” Sharing your difficulties as well as joys is key to airing out and addressing problems before they take a toll on your mental health (and marriage). This week, I challenge you to share a secret about your child rearing experience with a friend–something you feel you are alone in or slightly ashamed of as a parent. You might be surprised to hear that he/she feels the exact same way…

Back 2 Back: A look at funny moments in the marriage bed

This Media Monday we’re reverting to middle-school humor. Yes, both of these videos are about farting. You’re giggling already, aren’t you? Hey, this something we all have to deal with when sharing a marriage bed.

The first video is a hilarious advertisement for an amazing sounding product. If this blanket does what it’s supposed to do, I’m buying one ASAP.

It also gives room for reflection. It makes us giggle partly because it addresses something rather taboo in our culture: the fact that our bodies do some crazy stuff. And, at the same time it brings up the fact that these bodily goings-on can have a negative impact on your marriage, preventing sleep, decreasing sexual desire, and causing, guilt, embarrassment and withdrawal. Like the advertisement says, this is a real problem. Since we aren’t used to talking about bodily functions (in fact, we mostly pretend that they don’t happen) they tend to go undiscussed and can spend years wrecking subtle havoc on our relationships. The key is to air out these issues before they make our whole marriage toxic (pun fully intended). Tune in Thursday to part 2 of this series for Dr. Heitler’s tips on how to discuss sensitive issues like body odor and weight with your spouse.

The second video is a little humor dreamed up by our main media man, Daniel (staring him and his wife). The event depicted is not as pungent as the one in the first video. Daniel wrote this short clip after thinking about intimacy and boundaries in marriage. You know you’ve gotten to a sweet place in your relationship when something potentially embarrassing can instead be a funny bonding moment. You can see more PO2 videos on YouTube.


P.S. If you’d like to see more of Daniel’s funny work, check out his account page at Funny or Die. I highly recommend watching “Fan of Kim Yu-Na practices gold metal winning routine.”